The Liberal Scandal Industry Can't Stand It Now Has a Conservative Competitor

Oh how they loved it. It wasn’t just love, either. It was glee.

Witness liberal journalist Michael Kinsley, (announced in January as a contributing editor of Vanity Fair ) who was positively gleeful when he wrote a piece in The New Republic on the burgeoning Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal and the liberal media feeding frenzy that was reporting it. It originally appeared in the magazine's December 22, 1986 issue, titled "The Case for Glee." Wrote Kinsley (as re-titled in its new Internet form by Philly.com ):

Not Gloat? Why Not? Scorn For Democracy Is Doing Ron In

“The only irritating aspect of the otherwise delightful collapse of the Reagan administration is the widespread insistence that we must all be poker- faced about it. The approved attitude is to don the mask of tragedy: Oh, woe is us, another failed administration, policymaking in disarray, etc. And, of course, what must The Allies be thinking? The Washington Post, second to none in moral dudgeon, nevertheless declares that anyone who finds the spectacle entertaining is "reprehensible," no less.

Dear me! Am I really the only one here who's having a great time? Would I like to share the joke with the rest of the class? Or should any right- thinking person succumb to the fever of solemnity? No, upon tortured reflection, I've concluded that the case for glee remains compelling.

First, simple honesty requires any Washington type to admit that we live for this kind of episode. The adrenaline is flowing like Perrier. Everyone - Reagan's supporters no less than his opponents - is wandering around in a happy buzz induced by those oft-denounced but rarely eschewed twin intoxicants, "gossip and speculation." C'mon, everybody, admit it. We're high.

….Democrats and liberals, beaten down after six years of Reaganism, have every right to whistle a happy tune as they throw off their chains of timidity and go on the offensive. Politics is not just a game, but it is a game. The voices urging a weighty solemnity are the same sort who deplore the apathy of the electorate. But if people are going to be scolded for cheering whenever their side scores or the other side fumbles, they will quite rightly turn their attention back to professional sports.

….Democracy is a terrible inconvenience. "The Salvadoran guerrillas or the Sandinistas don't have to worry about all this when they deal with the Cubans and the Russians," a Contra leader complained to James LeMoyne of The New York Times, referring to Congress, public opinion, the press, the law and the other impedimenta of the American way. The Reagan administration, on whom democracy had lavished its greatest blessings, couldn't be bothered with democracy's inconveniences either.

So there's no need for gloom. Liberals and others who feared for their own faith in democracy can breath easy. Reagan's comeuppance is democracy's salvation. It turns out that you can't fool all the people all of the time after all. Dry those tears and repeat after me: Ha. Ha. Ha.

Back at ya, Mike. Substitute “Obama” for “Reagan”, clean up a few historical references to Iran-Contra, replace  with “ObamaCare” or “the IRS” or “Benghazi” or “the VA”, or, now, “Bergdahl” and… voila. While Ronald Reagan, whose death ten years ago this past week reiterates that the Gipper has passed not only into the Great Beyond but into the mystical hallowed ground of Lincolnesque “great presidents” (per polls like this one from Gallup, headlined “Americans Say Reagan is the Greatest US President”), Barack Obama is mired in the mud of his umpteenth scandal.  Whining during his European trip that  “I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington, all right? That’s — that’s par for the course.”

Controversies that are whipped up in Washington are par for the course. The President is actually right. But why? And whose fault is this?


While attention is being paid this month to the tenth anniversary of Reagan’s death and the seventieth anniversary of D-Day, there is also another anniversary upcoming. That would be June 17th, the 42nd anniversary of the break-in at the Watergate hotel and office complex in Washington, DC. On that date America witnessed the launch of the Great Liberal Scandal Industry. And make no mistake, scandal has been made an industry by the liberal media. To their repeated sorrow.

Watergate -- a break-in to bug the offices of then Democratic National Committee Chair Lawrence O’Brien, a longtime aide to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson -- was the role model. Watergate was to the liberal scandal industry what Apple has become to computers or Microsoft is to software. It is a gold standard formula demanding adherence to some combination of certain specific requirements - saturation media coverage, demands for televised congressional hearings, firings, calls for an independent counsel. And where applicable?  The demand for impeachment of the president.

But over time, the liberal scandal industry developed, as all industries do, a competitor: the conservative scandal industry.  What once was the sole domain of the three liberal television networks and publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time and Newsweek now had serious competition. Fox News, talk radio, magazines like William F. Buckley’s National Review, R. Emmett Tyrrell’s American Spectator, Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard were joined by the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal and -- no small thing -- the Internet.

The first time the competition stirred was in the Reagan era, with the aforementioned Iran-Contra scandal. Acutely aware of the mistakes made by the Nixon White House, the Reagan White House was determined not to repeat them. Full disclosure: I was a young Reagan staffer at the time. As the Iran-Contra scandal firestorm suddenly raged in November of 1986, I found myself in the Oval Office with my colleagues from the White House Office of Political Affairs. After a brief chat about the recent elections, which had not gone well, there was the inevitable series of pictures with the president.

By chance I was directed to stand behind the President’s chair, next to my immediate boss, future Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. Photos taken, I was momentarily wedged between the president’s chair and the credenza behind me. The President stood up and made his usual smiling chit chat -- and then stopped. As we started to move out, he motioned Haley and myself and a few others to stop. Looking me directly in the eye, his smile gone, the President said: “I want you to know I’ve done nothing wrong.”  But in spite of his feelings, he was well aware of what was at stake. Years later, his diaries reveal just how aware. “This whole irresponsible press bilge about hostages and Iran has gotten totally out of hand. The media looks like it’s trying to create another Watergate.”

This reflected, straight from Reagan himself, the determination that all facts were to be laid out for the American people to see. There would be no Nixon-style cover-up. Days earlier the President had walked briskly into the press briefing room to reveal what he had learned thus far of the scandal, then turning the briefing over to Attorney General Ed Meese for the details. As seen here in this video clip from day,  the White House press corps was in full cry. They literally yelled at the President, interrupted him, barked questions as he walked out of the room after handing the briefing over to Meese. The contrast with the way today’s White House press corps deals with President Obama could not be more vivid.

Reagan unhappily -- and at the urging of Nancy Reagan -- fired people: NSC staffer Lt. Col. Oliver North, NSC adviser Admiral John Poindexter and finally White House Chief of Staff Don Regan. He went along with the idea of televised congressional hearings, a bipartisan presidential investigating commission and an independent counsel. Reagan survived, his popularity returned, and more to the point, the liberal scandal industry had been effectively thwarted.

Notably, North himself made the invaluable contribution of turning the congressional hearings upside down. He showed up for the hearings in his Marine uniform, medals glistening. He brooked no nonsense from the liberal lawyer-politicians lecturing him - and instantly won the hearts and minds of a vast majority of the American people.

By 1991, George H.W. Bush Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, suddenly caught up in the maws of the scandal industry thanks to allegations of sexual harassment from Anita Hill, knew exactly what to do. Like Oliver North before him, Thomas refused to allow television to get the better of him. In dramatic testimony he faced down his accusers, calling his treatment a “high tech lynching for uppity blacks.”  His interrogators -- not to mention the media -- were stopped in their tracks.

Now it was 1998 -- and for the very first time -- the competition was flourishing. The revelation by Matt Drudge that Bill Clinton had been having an affair with a young intern in the White House was the competition’s first time in serious competition mode. The story had met a dead end at Newsweek, but Drudge went with it.This was no longer the Reagan White House adapting itself to the liberal scandal industry by playing excellent defense and - in the case of Oliver North - a bold offense. It was now well beyond Clarence Thomas, who, like North before him, had learned the importance of taking the offense. Now, using the liberal scandal role model, the conservative media scandal industry pounced. Fox News was on the air. Talk radio was flourishing. The American Spectator was relentless, bringing to light the story of Paula Jones and much more. Bill Clinton was impeached, saved only by Senate Democrats at his trial.

Notably, the Clinton scandal illustrated the danger for liberals in the business of scandal  media. During the Thomas episode liberals - liberal women in particular- indignantly flooded the media with the line that “women tell the truth” about sexual harassment. Times columnist Anna Quindlen had written this angry column that said sternly:

Listen to us.

You will notice there is no please in that sentence. It is difficult to feel polite, watching the white men of the United States Senate and realizing that their first response when confronted with a serious allegation of sexual harassment against a man nominated to the high court was to rush to judgment. It is difficult to feel polite, knowing they were more concerned about how this looked for them, for their party, their procedures and their political prospects than in discovering what really happened…..The Senate has the opportunity, in the days to come, to prove that this is not a government by men for men. Listen to us. Listen to her. Then decide.

By 1998, conservatives were the ones running with the sexual harassment. Bill Clinton was hoisted on the the liberal scandal media’s petard. If “women tell the truth”  -- then there were Monica, Paula, Kathleen, Juanita and a small platoon of women telling the truth. Bill Clinton’s impeachment  was, to borrow from Michael Kinsley, a “case for glee” in the newly powerful competition to the liberal media.

Now?

Now comes President Obama. Today the conservative media is unleashed. Polished. Every bit as professional as those liberal media smoothies were back in Watergate days. It is little recalled today, but when the Democrat-controlled US Senate - “whipped up” by the liberal media -  voted to create the Senate Watergate Committee in a February 5, 1973 vote, they rejected Republican proposals to widen the probe to include an investigation of Lyndon Johnson’s use of the FBI in bugging the campaigns of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Nixon in 1968. The liberal goal was to get Nixon - and only Nixon. The liberal media and the Democrats - admittedly with help from Nixon himself - succeeded. Today there is no way the LBJ end of the bugging story would go uncovered. It would be everywhere.

So?

President Obama is right. Controversies -- Bergdahl and the Taliban trade, Benghazi, the VA, the IRS -- are being whipped up in Washington.

But the biggest controversy of all  is the role of the liberal media scandal industry in creating this as the Washington gold standard. They created this industry. Their one mistake was in thinking they would never have any competition.

Let’s close by re-writing the last two lines from Michael Kinsley’s case for glee - updating for the Obama era.

Obama's comeuppance is democracy's salvation. It turns out that you can't fool all the people all of the time after all. Dry those tears and repeat after me: Ha. Ha. Ha.”

Jeffrey Lord
Jeffrey Lord
Jeffrey Lord is a contributing writer for NewsBusters